Originally from New York but now based Chicago, Aguila has a sonic richness that combines progressive melodies, rave-era breakbeats and driving 4×4 riffs, all wrapped up in a revelatory love letter to trance. There’s nothing quite like being locked into the Essential and Global Communication mixes of old, and the influence clearly shines through here with tracks careening through breakdowns and reprises in their own signature fusion. Producing and self-releasing music since 2011, way before Bandcamp was as accessible as it was, they’ve learnt their trade quietly and acquired all the techniques to putting out a killer club record. We caught up with Lázaro, who talked candidly about their love for old ’90s New York mega-clubs and Essential mixes, their introduction to Midwest rave, their joy of learning the process behind mixdowns and all its details, and how they came about writing their sun-kissed debut 12″ The Club On 27th West for There Is Love In You. Clocking in at just under an hour, Truancy Volume 272 is deep and tactile with a kinetic sense of liquid groove, pumping through a set of irresistible jams from the likes of Chris Nazuka, Lambda, Fio Fa and Smith & Selway.
Hey Lázaro, thanks again for taking out the time to do this mix and answer some questions for us! What’s been new and how have you been? “Thanks for having me! Not gonna lie—I froze when I first saw my inbox. I’m just coming off having butterflies in my stomach from my recent release on All My Thoughts. Recently broke a three-year writer’s block, so been rollin’ out some tracks as well. Other than that, bracing myself for work due to the upcoming holiday rush.”
So seeing as this is your first proper time on the site with this feature I thought we’d go way back and if you could tell us a little bit about some of your earliest musical memories? Are you from Chicago originally? “My earliest musical memories come from around the age of three—so around the start of 1998. I’m originally from Jamaica, Queens, born to Mexican immigrants. Being that it was a multi-generational family in an apartment if the news or telenovelas weren’t on, then music was either on the TV or stereo. Since this was around the time of the Latin American pop-crossover, a lot of the music played was Luis Miguel, Selena, La India (known in dance for her work with Masters at Work), Marc Anthony (also another Masters at Work alumnus), Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, and Ricky Martin amongst the many (aka That’s What I Like To Call Get Your Ass Up And Clean Vol. 1™). The older folks were more into the traditional ballads and Ranchera like Pepe Aguilar (no relation), Juan Gabriel, and Vicente Fernández. As my extended family was pretty mixed, family parties and get-togethers also had the usual mix of Latinx styles, mainly a lot of the hit songs from the time; Elvis Crespo, Celia Cruz, Oro Solido, and El General.
“On the other hand, my first-generation cousins had a strong knack for MTV, religiously watching T.R.L. A lot of Brandy, Aaliyah, TLC, Destiny’s Child, Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott, and the occasional house single that made it to the charts. Cliché as it is, Queens was also extremely diverse, so it wasn’t uncommon to have street fairs, block parties, or just straight-up big cookouts at the park. Most of the time these events had dance music blasting from end to end. By the turn of the Millennium, my parents decided to pursue something quieter in Illinois and that’s how I ended up here.”
Obviously Chicago is esteemed when it comes to house music and its parties, were there any people or parties you were attending in particular that helped you delve into your DJing and producing more here? “I honestly didn’t really get into DJing proper until I started my internship at smartbar in the spring of 2017 and started running a series of parties that would lead to Support System with my best friends later that fall. While I learned a lot of party/rave experiences during high school—my mentor and boss, Sev—lent me a lot of knowledge from his days in Midwest raves. My friends, Ross, Will, and later, Lucas and Ken, then all taught me how to DJ as we went along, mainly through b2bs. Before this, it was just messing about on friend’s controllers and Ableton.
“As we all came from various different styles (dub techno, garage, progressive, trance, Midwest rave, breaks, and Balearic), our goal was to be able to mix through these styles without many clashes. This lead to a lot of digging, sharing, and eventually leading to a sound we titled in jest as “the tunnel”. Besides the already mentioned, I looked to people like Glorbis (aka Sold—who also was an inspiration with their series of parties, Neon Falls), Leja Hazer, m50, Ciaran, Garrett David, Derrick Carter, Savile, Eris Drew, and Justin Long.”
Who are some of your biggest musical influences as Aguila as an artist? I’ve read you have a huge interest in the old mega-clubs of New York and old ’90s Essential mixes. What can you tell us about that? “The biggest is definitely Daft Punk, leaning heavily on Thomas Bangalter. I’m not kidding when I say I’ve spent most of my 10 years producing reverse engineering their Homework-era/Roulé work. From their gear list, the techniques used, to the way their records were mixed down (thanks to some close Frenchies). I’ve even, at times, reduced the amount of VSTs/programs I can use to the available emulations of their gear available. Even down to the way Thomas Bangalter conducted the band and himself in business was also a huge inspiration, paired with the DIY attitude. They combined a lot of the stuff I enjoyed about second-generation house and techno—fast, loopy, chopped, funky, rough, jackin’, filtered—into this slick, compressed pumped of a sound.
“Second to Daft Punk would be BT. I credit BT with really igniting my interest in dance music. I had discovered his music through the soundtrack for XGRA: Extreme-G Racing Association (basically WipeOut but with futuristic motorcycles); they had two playlists: rock and dance. Most of the tracks licensed were from his 1999 album, Movement In Still Life, with the majority being the singles. Mercury & Solace and Godspeed had the biggest impact on me with how otherworldly yet still driving the sound was. This was further emphasized in-game as you could “break the speed of sound” in which the game’s engine would apply a low pass filter to the entire mix with the exception of the soundtrack. The way he manipulated sounds (he’s known for the stutter edit—a fast repetition of a sound/sample until it’s basically perceived as a pitch and back again), a state of constant progression, playing with repetition, breakbeats, melodically chopped vocals—and of course—emotional melodies and dramatic breakdowns, is something that enchanted me as a kid. Beyond that, he’s also incredibly musically and mathematically gifted—like, how the hell are you going to the Berklee College of Music at 15?! I really implore you to explore his discography beyond his dance work, starting with This Binary Universe.
“Midwest rave, which comprised a lot of the sound of second-generation Chicago house and Detroit techno—along with some pickings from across the country and pond—was also big. Cajmere, Armand van Helden, Robert Hood, Jeff Mills (Purpose Maker), Richie Hawtin, Ian Pooley, Hardfloor, Paul Johnson, DJ Deeon, Woody McBride, Slam, DBX, DJ Rush, Derrick Carter, Armando, Doc Martin, Todd Edwards, MK, Terry Mullan, and DJ Sneak are among the huge list that made up the sound of the Midwest. Parallel to this sound, I also grew up with progressive house and trance. With the biggest influence on the way I DJ and search for tunes belonging to Sasha & Digweed. I spent loads of hours relistening to those Global Underground CDs and listening to the soundtracks of certain racing games came with. As I grew older, I grew fond of drum and bass from GTA III’s MSX FM station and UK Hardcore for the use of breaks and sampling.
“The obsession with the clubs came from not being able to play out my music as I started in high school. So in an effort to try and understand club dynamics, I would listen to multiple sets from residents and try and find pictures to get a sense of the physical feeling of being there. As time went by, I grew really interested in just keeping the history of these places alive and how sounds developed over time in a venue.
“Essential Mixes were really the only way I had a constant dance music education growing up. I had first gotten one on some burnt CD given to me by a friend’s older brother. On that CD, was Sasha’s Global Underground 013:Ibiza, Sasha & Digweed’s Essential Mix @ Homelands 2000 (May 27th, 2000), and some alternative rock I listened to once and didn’t touch again. At this point, my only point of reference for trance and progressive was BT and the singles surrounding his 1999 Movement In Still Life album. The way in which both mixes progressed—like a never-ending, constantly evolving song—was mind-blowing to me. This was around 2002/2003 and we had just gotten Limewire and dial-up; I would sneak onto our family computer, type in the artist name I wrote down from an MTV play or tracklist, and hope for the best. Some of the ones I rate the most are: Daft Punk’s 1999 Essential Selection, Doc Martin’s Essential Mix 1997, Derrick Carter’s Essential Mix 1996, John Digweed’s Essential Mixes 1994 & 1995, LTJ Bukem’s Essential Mixes 1995 & 1996, Andrew Weatherall’s Essential Mix 1996, and Terry Francis’ Essential Mix 1998.”
With all this, what sort of vibe do you want to get across in your own DJ sets, is it a combination of all of the above? Has there ever been a gig where you thought, ‘I nailed this’? “Yeah, basically a huge combination from all the above. Like I said earlier, I’m greatly influenced by Sasha & Digweed, so when I first started to mess about with mixing with controllers at friend’s places, naturally what I mixed first was progressive and trance. What I learned from them was how to tell a story through meticulous track-picking, harmonic mixing, and phrasing (or more or less, knowing your tracks like the back of your hand). I wanted to apply the same philosophy but just to house and techno to create these seamless multi-genre stories. But since I was also learning how to DJ back-to-backing, it provided a practical edge by being able to mingle with others well. It forced me to delve deeper into styles I used to dislike a lot (dub techno, minimal, electro), and review the things I was comfortable with. I came in wanting to ride the peak but came to figure out I enjoy the freedom of openers and building. Overall, just having fun exploring the grey areas between house, techno, and trance—similar to that of the ethos of the original ’90s tech house crew—and make a sort of liquid groove. Like mercury or Robert Patrick’s character as the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. I don’t think I’ve had that day yet…I feel like I tend to clear stuff out with how loopy I get, haha. I definitely feel much better playing with friends or to a small party of people.”
Let’s talk about The Club On 27th West record as it was the first time your music was pressed to wax and it’s since had numerous represses on some very nice looking coloured vinyl. Can you tell us a little bit about how the record came about? Did Jimmy reach out to you or had you been sending music back and forth? “The Club On 27th West was the follow up to my 2015 EP, What’s Twilo?, and the final EP in a trilogy of love letters to progressive house and trance. It came about shortly after attending the first party to what would become the Support System nights. The funny part is you can actually see how this happened. I commented on a Lobster Theremin Insta post with a sweater that said “TRANCE”. I said: “If you want some trance, I got the tunes for you.” Jimmy DM’d me shortly after with: “send the trance”.
“So…I sent the trance, hahaha. At this point, I had sent the tracks to some labels, but it either didn’t bite or got no response back. Some weeks had passed and gone into 2018 with no reply. I had gotten some positive feedback from several DJs so I was intending to self-release—and quite honestly—take a long break after. Jimmy comes into Chicago to play Queen! and play alongside Garrett David (who has released on Lobster Theremin) sometime mid-January. I was still interning at smartbar so I decided to roll through and say hi to them both. Garrett formerly introduces me to Jimmy, we hug, and he plays a couple of tunes in between some chatter. He pulls me aside in the booth and quickly informs me he’s got two of the tracks loaded on his USBs (‘La Luz’ & ‘The Club On 27th West’). Before I could respond, he plays one of them to measure a reaction. Then he continues to do the same before Michael Serafini comes on. In a bit of an anxious freeze, I sorta sat still on the bar stool. Jimmy, with a healthy smile, diffuses the situation and offers a pat and says “they’re signed.””
In terms of actually producing the tracks, can you tell us a bit about the timeline and the idea/theme behind it if there was any? Had this record been in the making for a while? “Yeah I started writing for these tracks started shortly after that first party I mentioned, like two weeks after. They were written from the second week of September till early October 2017. It was exploring the first couple of eras of progressive house; starting from 1990 with label influences like Soma, Guerilla, and Limbo, going into the turn of the Millennium with the ’01 closing of Twilo due to Giuliani.
“The first track made was the title track. It was originally much slower and a key lower than it is now. I originally wanted to capture the feeling of going from night till the next morning and seeing the sun slowly rise—as if it was at the end of a tunnel. It pays tribute to the late-90s Twilo strand of progressive; lots of percussion from the early days of when it was Sound Factory mixed with dub elements it was taking from the incoming tech house movement, and lots of filter envelope stuff from French Touch-copycat tracks.
“The second, ‘El Sol Rojo’, was actually written to get over a breakup at the time. I stood up playing Overwatch a couple of hours prior to making the track and wasn’t able to sleep. The title comes from the blood orange sun that rose that morning I finished printing out the track. Style-wise, it pays homage to the breaks found in Northern Exposure I & II along with the early Hybrid stuff.
“‘La Luz’ was made not long after and was literally me just wanting to mix early-progressive with R&B vocals. A similar concept of the tunnel being used in the track; dark, drug-chuggy opening, “the light”, and the option to go back into the tunnel or go in whatever direction. It was based on records released by Soma (Eterna, I.B.O.) and Limbo (Ethnic Prayer (Euro Mix)),
“I’m extremely sorry to everyone that’s sent me extremely wonderful heartfelt notes—but ‘Trance Atlantic’ was actually written as a bit of a joke/meme. It was made as sort of a big middle-finger to RA-purist-stoic-types. So I took what I thought were the cheesiest parts of the genre from various eras, threw them together with a sample I had on hold, and finished it in a couple hours; two days after ‘La Luz’. It took from early progressive and Italian records and meshed them with the later big room Dutch trance sound à la Rank 1, Armin van Buuren, and Ferry Corsten. I thought this track—out of them all—was going to bomb.”
Despite The Club On 27th West being your first record pressed to wax, you’ve been producing and self-releasing music since like 2011, like way before a time when Bandcamp was as accessible as it was. Can you tell us about those times, were you making and learning about producing just as much as possible? “I was a sophomore going into my junior year of high school. I had downloaded FL Studio some months prior but barely touched it as I used other programs for audio editing. I wanted to make an edit of Mr. Ozio & Gaspard Augé’s ‘Tricycle Express’ from the Rubber EP and the main program I used kept crashing. So I opened FL Studio, spent an hour learning the basics, and chopped up the edit in 30 minutes. I fell in love with how easy it was to program drums, set up an arrangement, and especially the sampler it came with. Not long after, I started making original tracks with the help of various trance forums and a small pocket of YouTubers making blog haus-influenced French Touch (Earl Grey, The Phantom’s Revenge, VanGuard to name a few). A lot of early stuff was very much first-wavy French Touch on the sampling side and straight-up Anjunabeats-style trance tracks on the more synth-end.
“Around the suburb I went to high school in, there was also a pretty tight Djent scene, which a good number of my friends participated in or had bands. EDM was just creeping up in America, so I took the chance to introduce the sound to my friends in exchange for trying out and going to their shows. I came to figure out a lot of the music was produced electronically, so it became a bit of a very loose network of kids just showing each other tracks and sharing feedback. As I went through school, if I wasn’t playing Counter-Strike, sneaking out to a rave, or schoolwork, I was learning everything I could about production.
“After some freak accident that blew up my motherboard in the summer of 2012, I stopped for a good second as my mental health was starting to get bad and my sneaking out to parties caught up. That Christmas, my best friend Josh, gifted me a Macbook (the same one I still use today). I made the switch over to Ableton after many jests (UnStableton) as he had become pretty knowledgeable in it. After figuring out what Boiler Room was, listening to SCB’s ‘Loss’ and Bicep’s ‘Vision Of Love‘ EP, I dropped making 60+ multi-track trance tracks and worked solely on house and techno. By the end of my senior year, I was sending stuff over to labels, getting feedback from DJs, and running a small blog that shared similar music. This all went pretty well until early 2014 when I figured out I had testicular cancer. Although everything was fine after surgery, and my first commercial releases were coming out—I fell into a pretty deep depression. I stopped any developments with labels at the time, remixes dropped, deleted the blog and project files.
“It wasn’t until the winter that I started to find inspiration in music—this time by focusing on mix engineering and my beloved Alesis 3630. The first track made after this was ‘Pépé’s Vibe‘ and the beginning of the progressive trilogy.”
Obviously melodies make up a large part of your music at the moment. Is working within a key something you’ve learnt over the years or are you classically trained at all with an instrument? “It’s something I came to learn from learning online and through friends. Remember those Djent kids I was talking about? Djent is basically a form of progressive metal—these guys would be talking about all these key and time signature changes all the time. It also helped that a lot of my friends were also jazz nerds, so it was very much just passionate people sharing their love. Otherwise, before I knew any theory, I would play stuff by ear.”
How technical are you as a producer now, compared to then, and has your setup changed much over the years? ‘Trance Atlantic’ and the whole record sound superb on a system hence the question. “As my focus has been more on engineering, that really means a lot to me, thank you! I think I’ve actually become more minimal in my production. Ever since those early trance days, I don’t layer at all, automation is almost 5 lines at most, and tracks never surpass 16 tracks. I keep to a specific set of sound palettes and “upgrade” them once I get to know the ins-and-outs of something.
“I take more pride in my mixing now. I tend to read a lot of mixing material throughout the day, along with watching lectures. I’ll mixdown old tracks and mutli-tracks of old popular songs for fun or just to keep my ears trained. It may be just being on the spectrum, but I genuinely find joy in the whole process of solving the problem of how to make music sound good on various systems. There are all these factors to account for and all these fun sound tools to mangle the signal(s) with. My love for this changed when I watched a documentary on the making of Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix of which Philippe Zdar was the engineer. He had this very fun, go-for-it approach mixed with the actual science of it. I would pester him online with mix questions here and there. He had a strong philosophy of always sharing what you’ve learned—there’s no point in having someone else going through the hardship.
“Beyond some gear pickups here and there, it’s pretty in-the-box still. I have an Alesis 3630 (the infamous compressor used by Daft Punk and most of the Roulé crew), a first-gen Mackie MS1202, and an Akai S700. I run audio out through my interface into the Mackie for overall mix saturation and then into the Alesis 3630. I’ll also do this with samples and VSTs to add some harmonics. The S700 is basically the little brother of the S900/950. I use it for vocal samples, chops, and breaks. Since the sample time is pretty shit, you get this nice warm crunch with some slight compression. The Alesis 3630 is on the master buss to get that thick, French glue-pump. I use Push to mix and build my tracks.
“Everything else is in the box with a nicely curated bunch of plugins I love to use. Lots of compressors, EQs, emulations of drum machines and synths—and my favourite—sampler ADC/DACs. I absolutely am obsessed with the sound of vintage samplers.”
In terms of recent music, what have been some of your favourite records this year? “I have a hard time keeping up with modern music, to be honest. I came across Jonah Yano as a feature on BADBADNOTGOOD’s ‘Key To Love (Is Understanding)’ and really liked his voice. He released an album earlier in the Spring titled ‘souvenir’ and it slaps. Something more recent is Chicago artist Sen Morimoto’s self-titled that came out in October. It features a lot of other Chicago artists—all I have to say is he’s extremely talented. ‘Reso’ by Kush Jones was an immediate buy upon hearing it. Ariana Grande’s ‘Positions’ caught me off-guard. Although the original came out last year, the remix of Tinashe & MAKJ’s ‘Save Room For Us’ that came out earlier this year was a repeater. So was Chloe x Halle’s ‘Do It’. Rina Sawayama’s ‘XS’. The delicious chop that is Bicep’s ‘Apricot’. Haider’s recent release on Aus, Dance Now, Cry Later EP. DJ Central’s bouncy Passion EP. Lastly, this label from Australia, Dolphin Flip Records. Had two releases this year that’re some nice jackin’ bits.”
So what can you tell us about the mix you’ve recorded for us? Was there any direction you decided you wanted to go for this when making and are there any particular tracks you want to shout out? “There were originally five tracklists I went through. Come the day of recording at Ross’, I’m two tracks in and the CDJs crash. No biggie, restart the recording and check the USBs. Three tracks deep and the left CDJ goes into an emergency loop…the right one follows and they crash. Out of frustration, I sat down and memorised as many tracks as I could on the playlist I had ready. I had figured that playing under the playlist option was the issue. In a bit of a paranoid hustle, I just decided to wing it and forgo all the planning I had. I kinda just wanted to dance the anxiety away while still maintaining some sort of liquid groove. This one is definitely the most modern of my mixes as half the tracks are actually from the past ten years. Also includes a new one from myself ;) Unfortunately, this is the only mix I haven’t included a Swag track in…shout out to Swag.”
Last usual question for us, what was the last thing to put a big smile on your face? “I lit some “good luck” incense last night and I woke up to a couple of bits of good news this morning. I lit some again and got something else not 45 minutes after…who knows.”
Aguila: Soundcloud, Instagram, Twitter